Category Archives: Book Reviews

Novel Review: Nyxia

The success of The Hunger Games has spawned a surge of YA titles where teens get thrown in to fight each other. Now Scott Reintger adds his version Nyxia, where the battle takes place in space.

Back Cover Blurb

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

The Review

The teaser on the Nyxia dustcover is misleading. It reads: “The ultimate weapon. The ultimate prize. Winner takes all.” Actually, it would be more accurate to say: “The top eight out of ten win.”

As such, the stakes aren’t nearly as dire for Nyxia’s lead character Emmett Atwater as they were for The Hunger Games‘ Katniss. However, a number of the competitive aspects of Nyxia make it feel a whole lot like Hunger Games training sessions in space. As for the prize everyone is after? The right to go to planet Eden on behalf of Babel Communications to mine nyxia, a miracle substance that can be manipulated by thought.

Due to certain circumstances, the Adamites, Eden’s native humanoids, have forbidden adult Earthlings from visiting the planet. Babel works around this rule by handpicking ten teens to retrieve the nyxia for them. Because Babel has more power and resources than most countries, the compensation they offer is staggering, and for Emmett, this is his chance to get his mom the kidney transplant she needs.

There is, however, a catch. En route to Eden, a range of training sessions and competitions take place in their spacecraft. The recruits’ efforts are ranked, and only the top eight get to go to Eden. As such, even though the setting is space, there’s precious little about the space travel experience or the planet they are going to. It’s all about the teenagers’ rivalries and contests which mostly take place in simulation modules. As in The Hunger Games, there is a ridiculous amount of tech so the kids are able to operate massive mining equipment with minimal instruction and their boating training site might as well be an actual river. And of course, there is hand to hand combat with nifty nyxia weapons. So fans of competition narratives where ranks are constantly shifting on the scoreboard potentially have a lot to like.

The cast, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. To ensure their recruits are sufficiently motivated, Babel chose poor kids, several of whom have an additional need that only Babel can provide. However, for some reason, Babel recruited kids not just from one place but all over the Earth. As such, Nyxia has an international cast, able to communicate thanks to nyxia translator masks. Unfortunately, the international quality doesn’t ring true for me. For instance, a Brazilian girl receives a Spanish-language contract (Portuguese is Brazil’s national language). In another scene, the translator masks are unable to convey the slang meaning of “cool” to a Palestinian, but a page later, a character who only speaks Japanese makes a pun that only works in English. Honesty, it feels as if the author began with a white bread cast and later diversified it to add appeal but didn’t bother to account for the nuances of different cultural outlooks and values.

The story might have worked better if the kids were Americans with different ethnic backgrounds, but other shortfalls remain. Emmett is a poor black kid from Detroit, and the book spends a couple pages laying out how no one in his family has ever truly been free. However, in a later scene, Emmett gets psychoanalyzed after accidentally injuring another recruit in their first hand-to-hand matchup. The doctor, a white man, strongly insinuates that Emmett had no empathy for the boy he injured because “it didn’t show on his face.” As far as I’m concerned, that remark should trigger some kind of frustration or indignation over racial bias, especially since Emmett is the only black male in the competition, he had been following instructions when the accident occurred, and he actually does feel bad about hurting to other kid. But there’s nothing, not even in Emmett’s internal thoughts. Perhaps several decades into the future, racial prejudices and social injustice no longer exist, but that portrayal of the world doesn’t work when Detroit is still characterized as a place where urban African-Americans can’t break the cycle of poverty.

In Summary

Ten kids get sent on an expedition to another planet, but rather than learning about how to interact with the planet’s native humanoid population, they spend their time and effort focusing on how to beat other humans. If you like reading about competitions where points get tallied on a scoreboard, Nyxia may have appeal for you. However, the basis of the competition is farfetched, and the international cast is international in name only.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

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Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 14

The contrast between city and rural life has been a source of entertainment since the time of Aesop’s fables. It remains a popular subject in manga and anime today, and joining the ranks of Silver Nina, Non Non Biyori, and Silver Spoon is Yen Press’ series Barakamon. Read on for my review of Volume 14! (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Reality is tough, but…surely, the future must be bright. Handa-sensei has returned from Tokyo with a new declaration–he’s going to start his own calligraphy school! But will he find any students!? But when an unusually cold winter brings rare snow to the island, is Handa prepared to hibernate the time away?

The Review

Handa’s returned to the island! However, he is a (somewhat) changed man with a new dream. Before he was an artist striving to find inspiration and his own unique means of expression. Now Handa’s quitting contests and commissioned work to open his very own calligraphy school!

It’s a well-established fact that Handa has no practical skills to speak of and that the Kawafujis have always handled the business end of his calligraphy. That combined with Handa’s unrealistic expectations regarding his new endeavor now gives readers the beginnings of an extended arc with a lot of potential. But before Handa can attempt to recruit Gotou students for his ¥20,000 per month (approximately $200 per month) lessons, he has two obstacles to contend with: the daikon bet and Kanzaki.

The daikon bet was struck a couple volumes back between Farmer Mush and Handa and further complicated by Kanzaki’s thoughtlessness. With Handa certain that Mush will ask for the rights to his house if the daikon are not up to snuff, Yoshino-sensei packs quite a bit of tension into the daikon picking. However, the ultimate outcome culminates in a hilarious illustration that took me completely by surprise. Chapter 103 mixes up the fallout from the bet with the village children’s tag game, which, though not quite as funny as Chapter 102, still incorporates a lot of entertaining action.

As for Kanzaki, he can’t bear to see the artist he idolized leave the calligraphy world. And unfortunately for Handa, a blizzard snows them in so he’s stuck having to listen to Kanzaki’s protests. While it’s funny watching two hapless city boys trying to cope when the water pipes freeze, Kanzaki’s whining comes off as annoying and shrill rather than comical, so it’s a relief when he finally flies back to Tokyo.

Extras include bonus manga on the inside of the cover flaps, translation notes (which are for some reason placed between Chapters 106 and 107), and another installment of “Barakamon News.”

In Summary

A new dream for Handa means a new arc for Barakamon! Opening a calligraphy school out in the sticks poses a whole different set of challenges for our displaced Tokyoite, starting with securing his teaching space from Farmer Mush and defending his decision against Kanzaki’s protests. While the daikon showdown is quite a bit more fun than I expected, Kanzaki’s whining gets irritating fast, and it’s a relief when he finally leaves the island at the end of the volume.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Master Keaton Vol. #12

I became an instant fan of Naoki Urasawa in 2004 when I saw the Monster anime. Psychological thrillers are definitely NOT my cup of tea, but he had me hooked with his combination of realistic artwork and gripping plot. As such, I was thrilled when Viz Media decided to release a translation of an earlier Urasawa action/adventure: Master Keaton. Read on for the review of Volume 12. (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

“If you have the willingness to learn, you can learn anywhere.” With this message from his old teacher in his heart, Taichi Hiraga Keaton finally lands in Romania, where ruins of the Danube civilization lie. Yet, what awaits Keaton is a major horrifying event that shocks the entire nation!

The Review

The vast majority of this series has focused on Keaton’s external challenges, and most stories have been brief, unrelated arcs. However, for the finale of Master Keaton, the creators pull out all the stops to present a volume-long arc centered around Keaton’s dream of excavating the Danube.

Keaton has mentioned his theory of a yet-to-be-discovered Danube civilization on occasion, but in Volume 12, he has his theories formally written into a paper and is trying to gain the academic backing necessary to launch an archaeological excavation. His previous attempts at a faculty position were like a long-running joke, but this time there’s real pathos as Keaton struggles to choose between his aspirations and the restrictions of a conservative university department.

His ultimate decision drives all the subsequent action in the volume. Although that action includes everything from tracking down a lost 20-carat ring to defending a Romanian village from mortar fire, his single-minded determination toward his goal not only holds the wide-ranging narrative together, it allows readers to connect with Keaton on a deeper level. He solves mysteries and clashes with Mafia and former Secret Police like usual, but now that Keaton has something truly personal at stake, he and the story are much more engaging than when he was fixing other people’s problems. Indeed, other people band to help Keaton out of his scrapes, including childhood pal Charlie Chapman and retired Detective Hudson.

The arc’s one minor plot flaw is the ease by which the characters communicate. Keaton’s adventures take him to a remote Romanian village, and while his skills set is eclectic enough to include fluency in Romanian, I doubt Chapman and Hudson can claim the same. Otherwise, it’s a seamless wild ride as Keaton’s search for an artifact’s origins gets him tangled in a more sinister hunt for a former dictator’s hidden fortune. While there are several layers to the political intrigue, the creators’ artful storytelling keep the reader well abreast of the complex plot.

For those familiar with Urasawa’s subsequent work Monster, Master Keaton’s final chapters contain several elements also found in Monster—a post-Cold War Eastern European setting, corrupt government officials, underworld bosses, prostitutes, and a boy that latches onto the main character. So if you liked Monster, you’ll probably enjoy this last installment of Master Keaton, and vice versa.

In Summary

It’s the final installment of Master Keaton, and the creators do an excellent job weaving all its myriad aspects into a thrilling volume-long arc. So whether you’ve enjoyed the series for its action, sleuthing, political intrigue, or archeological treasure hunting, you’ll find something to like as Keaton strives to make his archeological dreams a reality.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Waiting for Spring Vol. 1

Reverse harem is a huge subset of the shojo manga genre, and mangaka Anashin’s Waiting for Spring has a bishounen cast made up of basketball players  Read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back Cover Blurb

Mizuki is a shy girl who’s about to enter high school, and vows to open herself up to new friendships. Of course, the four stars of the boys’ basketball team weren’t exactly the friends she had in mind! Yet, when they drop by the café where she works, the five quickly hit it off. Soon she’s been accidentally thrust into the spotlight, targeted by jealous girls. And will she expand her mission to include… love?

The Review

In reverse harem manga, the heroine generally has unique circumstances or character qualities to capture the attention of the male characters. Make her a little too ordinary, and the dynamic doesn’t quite work. Worse, give her a personality quirk that doesn’t make sense, and you’re left wondering why anyone bothers with her.

Unfortunately, that’s the issue with Waiting for Spring. It’s posturing itself as a Boys Over Flowers kind of title with its Elite 4, a basketball-type F-4. These four handsome boys are athletic, popular, and have a gaggle of rabid fangirls following them wherever they go. And the girl that manages to befriend them unlike any other is Mitsuki Haruno, the shyest girl in school. In contrast to the Elite 4, she hasn’t made any friends at school. But it’s not because she’s a victim of bullying or abuse; there’s no indication of that. She’s. Just. That. Shy. However, you can’t categorize her as a shut-in type because she interacts normally with the customers at the cafe where she works part time. Plus, she is friends with her boss and his college-age daughter Nana so she doesn’t have true social anxiety.

These personality inconsistencies make it difficult to relate to Mitsuki. Her shyness comes and disappears whenever it’s convenient for the plot. And because her problems aren’t particularly difficult (i.e. talking to classmates) she doesn’t inspire me to cheer her on. While the set up for her first encounter with the Elite 4 is decent (one of the boys has a crush on Nana), their lingering interest in Mitsuki is a stretch.

Also a stretch is the Elite 4’s fanbase. They have the usual vicious devotees, ready to rip out the throat of any girl who gets too close to their idols. However, when the Elite 4 has their first basketball game together, the fangirls are too busy ogling over the boys’ pretty faces to shout out support, and when Mitsuki suggests that they cheer the team on, they act like they can’t be bothered. Also, basketball is a FIVE player game, but all the illustrations of the game only show the Elite 4 so I feel rather sorry for whoever their invisible fifth man is.

Extras include bonus comics, mini character profiles, author’s notes and afterword, and translation notes.

In Summary

Waiting for Spring is well-illustrated, and that’s about it. The heroine is wishy-washy, and the cast’s bishounen latch onto her for no good reason. While it has the elements of a reverse harem manga, it can’t quite pull them together for a convincing story.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

 

Manga Review: Descending Stories Vol. 1

Manga often educates non-Japanese readers on lesser known aspects of  Japan’s culture, and Descending Stories does exactly that for the storytelling art of rakugo. Read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back Cover Blurb

A hapless young man is released from prison with nothing to his name, but he knows exactly what he wants: to train in the art of rakugo comedic storytelling. After seeing an unforgettable performance from one of Japan’s greatest masters, Yakumo Yurakutei VIII, during his time in jail, he will settle for nothing less than to become apprentice to the best. Yakumo, notorious for taking no students, is persuaded to take him on, and nicknames him Yotaro—the fool. Yotaro has no formal training or elegance, but something about his charisma reminds Yakumo of someone from his past.

The Review

Descending Stories is probably not the best title for newbie manga readers to start with. It’s a period piece, set around 1970s Japan and contains numerous historical references that go back to Edo period. The story centers around the performing art of rakugo so the text includes a lot of rakugo-specific vocabulary in addition to general Japanese cultural terms. Finally, the artwork is not the prettiest. Even though the illustrations get the job done, backgrounds are minimal, and there’s not much nuance to characters’ expressions.

Having said all that, I found Descending Stories to be a beautiful piece of storytelling.

The strength of Descending Stories lies in the personalities of its cast and their varied relationships with rakugo, a traditional form of storytelling in which a seated, solo performer acts out all the characters. Our guide into the rakugo world is a former gangster recently released from prison. The hapless young man has no prospects and no family, but he has a dream: to train under rakugo master Yakumo Yurakutei VIII. And to everyone’s astonishment Yakumo takes him on. After receiving the name Yotaro (Blockhead), our ex-con moves in with Yakumo and his surly ward Konatsu, and as Yotaro struggles to learn his craft, his presence stirs up old ghosts and Konatsu’s long-held grudge against Yakumo.

Despite Yotaro’s aspiration of becoming a rakugo master, he’s a relative newbie to the art. As such, the first chapters are kind of an introduction to its practices and traditions. So even if you’ve never heard of rakugo, you can learn with Yotaro as he starts his apprenticeship. However, most rakugo stories are set in the Edo period so it really helps to have some knowledge of that era to follow along. Yotaro, by the way, is an extremely likeable, straightforward character. He’s an ex-con, true, but he’s just dim, not vicious. Besides, everyone in the theater knows about his gangster past, and because he doesn’t hide it and he’s clearly not returning to the gang, it doesn’t matter.

Yakumo and Konatsu, on the other hand, have lived and breathed rakugo their whole lives. And they have secrets. Secrets that center around Sukeroku, a late rakugo artist who was Konatsu’s father and Yakumo’s closest colleague. And Yotaro’s style and personality are a dead ringer for Sukeroku’s. While the rakugo world provides the setting and the framework for dreams and success, the glimpses of the characters’ resentment and regret are what draw you in.

In a sense, that is the biggest difference between the anime and the manga. The anime does a wonderful job displaying the art by presenting rakugo pieces (often uninterrupted) from beginning to end. Because manga is a still and silent medium, it can’t convey performances in that same way so it delves more into the things that take place off stage and the relationships formed around rakugo. I barely remember the character Mangetsu from the anime, but in the manga, he gets introduced in Chapter 2 almost as a kind of rival for Yotaro. Volume 1 ends about the midway point of the anime’s hour-long Episode 1, and that’s because it meanders to various places the anime did not. If you enjoyed the anime, I’d highly recommend picking up the manga for these extra moments.

Extras include a 3-page bonus chapter that explains yose (rakugo theater) basics, a paragraph about the origins of the Rakugo Kyokai Association, and translation notes.

In Summary

Descending Stories isn’t the type of title that will appeal to a wide audience, but if you’re reasonably well versed in Japanese culture/history or have a special interest in storytelling traditions, Descending Stories is definitely worth a look. While the manga’s artwork quality is a couple steps below that of the anime, it still does an excellent job telling this story about storytellers. The rakugo performances are shown in bits and pieces, but the mangaka still paints an engaging portrait of the art form’s practices and those striving to carry on the tradition.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

 

Manga Review: Frau Faust Vol. 1

Mangaka often base their stories on classic literature. This includes Western tales, and Kore Yamazaki has released a gender bending version of Faust in Frau Faust. Read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back Cover Blurb

More than a century after an eccentric scholar made an infamous deal with a devil, the story of Faust has passed into legend. However, the true Faust is not the stuffy, professorial man known in fairy tales, but a charismatic, bespectacled woman named Johanna Faust, who happens to still be alive. Searching for pieces of her long-lost demon, Johanna passes through a provincial town, where she saves a young boy named Marion from a criminal’s fate. In exchange, she asks a simple favor of Marion, but Marion soon finds himself intrigued by the peculiar Doctor Faust and joins her on her journey. Thus begins the strange and wonderful adventures of Frau Faust!

The Review

Of the stories of humans selling their souls to demons, the tale of Faust is among the most famous, and Yamazaki-sensei uses it as the basis for Frau Faust. However, instead of starting with the contract that Faust strikes with the demon Mephistopheles, this manga opens a century after Faust’s demise.

Except Faust isn’t dead. And he’s no longer a man but a youthful woman who goes by the name Johanna. As for Mephisto, he was cut into pieces and sealed away. Inquisitors have scattered the demon’s remains in various locations to prevent him from reviving, but Johanna is on a mission to bring him back.

Clearly, Faust is a complicated character with extraordinary circumstances, but fortunately, readers have the young boy Marion to help navigate through the story. Johanna and Marion literally run into another when Marion’s trying to escape with stolen books, and when she learns he had to drop out of school because of his family’s debt, she takes it upon herself to tutor him. However, her motives aren’t entirely pure. When the time is opportune, she uses the boy to get into a church stronghold, where he witnesses a battle between Johanna and the Inquisitor swordsman Lorenzo and encounters the partially reassembled Mephisto.

Yamazaki-sensei does this throughout Volume 1, showing different aspects of Johanna’s ill-gotten power and countering them with pangs of conscience and acts of compassion. Add to that a sharp wit and glimpses of Faust’s love-hate relationship with Mephisto, and we have an extremely intriguing gray character. Getting involved with her is definitely a risky proposition, but as Marion demonstrates, she’s so fascinating that the temptation to journey with her overrides fear.

The story opens up with mysteries: namely, why is Faust a woman and what is she trying to accomplish by resurrecting Mephisto? But by the end of the volume, we get no answers, only more questions about the relationship between Faust and Mephisto. However, the characters— from the naive Marion to the persistent Lorenzo to the enigmatic Johanna—do an excellent job of drawing readers into their world, and I look forward to continuing their story.

Extras include the 36-page one-shot The Invisible Museum, bonus comics, a 4-page manga style author’s afterword, and translation notes.

In Summary

Frau Faust incorporates magic with a bit of action and a lot of mystery. Unlike the original Faust tale, in which the demon is simply focused on tempting Faust to a bad end, the relationship between Mephisto and Johanna, like that between Sebastian and Ciel of Black Butler, is more complex. It remains to be seen what motivates Johanna to both care for orphans and reconstruct a dismembered demon, but I’m sufficiently intrigued to continue reading in order to find out.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

 

Manga Review: Kiss Me at the Stroke of Midnight Vol. 1

Cinderella type stories are a staple of shojo manga, and in many modern versions,  ordinary high school girls get romanced by gorgeous celebrities. Rin Mikimoto now adds another title to this list with Kiss Me at the Stroke of Midnight. Read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back Cover Blurb

At school, Hinana is an honors student, respected by all her classmates. She’s totally above things as juvenile as crushes and dating. Secretly, though, she has but one wish: To have a fairy-tale romance. One day, a super-hot celebrity named Kaede shows up at Hinana’s high school to shoot a movie, and it becomes difficult to keep up her act. By pure chance — or y’know, fate! — Kaede reveals his own ridiculous personality to Hinana, and her ordinary life turns breathtakingly romantic! Or just really, really… weird?!

The Review

This is my first time reading Mikimoto-sensei’s work, and I found Kiss Me at the Stroke of Midnight somewhat reminiscent of the Goong manhwa by So Hee Park. This partly because it is also a romance that incorporates crude humor, and partly because the character designs go from sparkly-eyed shojo-style to goofy caricatures when things get bawdy. And like Goong, it is a Cinderella story. However, instead of an actual prince and a poor girl, the lead couple is a handsome celebrity and a straitlaced honor student.

That honor student being Hinana Hanazawa. Unlike many other Cinderella-type heroines, her family is not in debt, and she doesn’t have to work part-time to make ends meet. If anything, she’s the embodiment of the perfect high school girl with good grades, a seat on the student council, and a serious demeanor. Secretly, however, she fantasizes about having a fairy-tale romance with a hot guy—not that she thinks it could ever happen.

Enter super-star Kaede Ayase. He shows up at Hinana’s school to shoot a film, and Hinana and her classmates can’t even speak to him because he’s so glamorous. But by pure chance, Hinana discovers that Kaede is a “butt alien” (panty freak), and suddenly, the celebrity prince doesn’t seem so unapproachable to her any more.

This title is rated for “Older Teen,” but I’m still troubled by the fact that our heroine falls for such an unabashed pervert. This is shojo, after all, not hentai. It’s one thing for Kaede to catch a glimpse of her panties because she (oopsies!) trips at the wrong time. It’s another thing for him to ogle the whole high school tennis team and to offer to let Hinana feel up the panty flash figurine he wins at an arcade. Plus, he’s 24–an adult, and at least seven years older than Hinana. He takes special interest in Hinana because she doesn’t condemn him for his butt fetish and keeps it a secret. However, his special interest in her doesn’t stop him from ogling other women, girls, and inanimate objects. Kaede is portrayed as a carefree bubblehead so his fetish doesn’t come across as predatory, but I do wish Hinana had higher standards.

If Kaede had a less perverted quirk, this would be an otherwise entertaining romantic comedy. I liked its twist on Cinderella’s shoes, and because Hinana’s not a Cinderella that needs to be rescued from her circumstances, the mood stays fun even as she ponders the chemistry brewing between her and Kaede. As mentioned in the author notes, this story tries to capture the nature of celebrity crushes as well as the fact that celebrities are human, too, and it does a good job of showing the comic awkwardness of a budding relationship complicated by the burdens of stardom.

Extras include the first five pages printed in color, author’s notes and afterword, and translation notes.

In Summary

Kiss Me at the Stroke of Midnight is yet another Cinderella-type manga with an ordinary high school heroine and a gorgeous celebrity. However, unlike most stories that fall into this trope, neither character is in desperate or extreme circumstances so there’s not a lot of high stakes drama. There are, however, quite a lot of panty shots for a shojo title. So if you’re interested in a Cinderella romantic comedy and don’t mind raunchy humor, you can give this title a try.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Behind the Scenes Vol. #4

There are a LOT of anime and manga centered around glamorous idols and movie/TV stars, but what about the humble folk that do the grungy, tedious work behind the camera? The unseen teams charged with creating film sets, costumes, and props are the subject of Bisco Hatori’s Behind the Scenes!! Viz Media has released Volume 4, and you can read on for the review. (Reviews of previous volumes can be found here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Ryoji Goda is everything Ranmaru wishes he could be — self-assured, competent and cool. But when the Art Squad works the final film camp of the summer, Ranmaru gets to see a whole new side to his idol — disappointing son! Goda’s dad seems to criticize everything his son does, and they fight constantly. Finally Ranmaru and Goda have something in common! But the pressure of paternal disapproval pushes Goda to do something shocking that might change the Art Squad forever…

The Review

The stories in this series have been dominated by various film- and director-related challenges for the Art Squad. Volume 4 also contains problematic film directors (indeed, the Squad’s yet to encounter one who’s a competent and reasonable human being), but Hatori-sensei takes a slightly different angle by focusing on the Squad members’ family backgrounds. The first is a single chapter arc about Ranmaru’s family—not the aunt and cousins he boards with but his fisherfolk parents and sister. The setup is a bit farfetched: a director bails on his own project to drown his sorrows in Akihabara, and the Squad are the only members of the entire cast and crew who care enough to hunt him down. In the midst of what feels like an Akihabara tour, the topic of Ranmaru’s family pops up randomly. Then, just as randomly, his parents and sister pop up in the flesh. While wacky characters are a mainstay of this series, Ranmaru’s family goes way off the deep end.

Hatori-sensei does much better with the next arc: two chapters about Goda and his Buddhist priest dad. The Squad’s next shoot takes place in the temple run by Goda’s dad, but that proves more of a hindrance than a help. Apparently, father and son are at odds because Goda refuses to be his dad’s successor. To make things worse, the film director is a childhood acquaintance who’s buddy-buddy with Goda’s dad. While Goda’s family background came as a surprise, it actually works well in explaining his personality. Young Goda’s tonsure photo is pretty funny, too. In terms of the filmmaking aspect of the story, it does a good job explaining the role of an assistant director even though Goda’s abrupt switch from Art Squad to assistant director is a stretch.

Finally, we have the school festival arc! This, like the craft workshop, is a fundraising opportunity for the Squad. Unlike the craft workshop, however, Goda doesn’t limit his team to art-related work. As such, the Squad members get hired out for all manner of activities. In the midst of all the festival contests and booths, we get more background on carefree Izumi, thanks to Soh’s growing attraction toward him. As it turns out, Izumi is more complicated than he appears, and the more we learn, the more improbable it seems that Soh’s feelings will be reciprocated. However, Soh’s crush on Izumi and Ranmaru’s crush on Ruka are the things that keep me wanting to read on at the end of the volume.

Extras include (cute) photos of the dango featured in the festival arc, embedded notes from the creator, glossary, and author bio.

 

In Summary

It’s the family installment of Behind the Scenes!! The Squad members are pretty weird, and now we get a look at the families and circumstances that made them so weird. Ranmaru’s backstory is simply odd, but the dynamic between Goda and his equally fiery Buddhist priest dad is fun to watch. We get fewer details on Izumi, but it’s enough to completely reshape your perspective on the Squad’s resident chick magnet.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Handa-Kun Vol. 7

Fans of Satsuki Yoshino’s Barakamon can now get even more Handa-centric comedy. Yen Press has released Handa-Kun, a prequel series which chronicles the high school days of our favorite genius calligrapher. Read on for my review of Volume 7. (Click here for reviews of other volumes).

Back Cover Blurb

Just when you thought it was all over, the whole crew makes a surprising return for three extra chapters! How will the Handa Army react to the news that their beloved Handa will be the focus of an anime series? By blowing it all ridiculously out of proportion, of course! The final volume of Handa-kun is full of high jinks with the Handa Army, plus some special extras from the author.

The Review

It’s the final volume of the series! But it’s not so much a final arc as it is a collection of illustrations, comics, and mini-stories. It opens with a Special Comic Gallery: nine full color pages of color manga that had previously been only published in the magazine.

Next are three mini-arcs, each with a lengthy note from the Yoshino-sensei about its creation. Although all the stories take place after Handa realizes he’s not actually an outcast, the feel of first two stories don’t differ all that much from the earlier arcs. That is because even though Handa’s eyes have been opened to the truth, that doesn’t mean his classmates are suddenly cured of HND-syndrome. As such, fans of the impassioned hijinks of the Handa Army will get to enjoy one additional chapter of the same in “Handa-kun and the TV Anime.” As you might guess, this mini-arc includes a tie-in to the actual Handa-kun anime as well as the Handa Army’s disastrous attempt to create an anime of their own. As for “Handa-kun and the Person in Front,” it follows the “Handa-kun through a side character’s POV” format. Again, even though Handa realizes he’s not despised, that doesn’t stop his classmates from grossly misinterpreting his words and actions.

The final mini-arc, “Handa-kun and the Handa Army,” is a more standard type of postscript story. Handa’s homeroom class holds a reunion, and we get to see how everyone looks six years later. One of the nice touches of this volume is that the cover illustration is a class photo and the book’s final illustration shows everyone in the same pose as adults. Since Handa has a whole series dedicated to his life after school, Yoshino-sensei instead uses the reunion as a way for the class to gossip about Handa and each other. However, she does manage to connect it to the Barakamon series at the end.

Interspersed amid the mini-arcs are a lot of bonus illustrations, and finally, the volume wraps up with several pages of mini-comics, even more bonus illustrations, and the last installment of “Handa-Kun News.”

In Summary

It’s the final volume of Handa-kun, but it feels more like a fan book with all the illustrations and bonus material crammed inside. However, Yoshino-sensei does deliver three final mini-arcs. Two are simply more manifestations of HND-syndrome, but the third is a fun glimpse of Handa’s classmates as adults and how they’ve grown up (or not).

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: A Bride’s Story Vol. 9

Kaoru Mori is best known for her work, Emma, an exquisite romance/slice-of-life set in Victorian England. Her latest work to be released in the United States, A Bride’s Story, is also a historical/slice-of-life but is vastly different than Emma. Set in Central Asia in a rural town near the Caspian Sea during the early 19th century, A Bride’s Story revolves around a young woman, Amir, who arrives from a distant village across the mountains to marry Karluk, a boy 8 years her junior. Volume 9 has been released, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Pariya’s budding romance with Umar is off to a rough start due to her brash personality and lack of confidence. But if she can’t figure out how to say what she wants with words, then perhaps the old adage is true–the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!

The Review

Between Mr. Smith’s travels and the movements of the Halgal, Bride’s Story has covered a wide range of territory, and Volume 9 begins with a kind of recap. “Living Things’ Stories” is a set of 4-panel comics that revisit the people we’ve encountered in the series. In addition to being cute and funny, they update readers on characters’ circumstances.

Then the plot moves on with Pariya and her potential fiancé. It’s unclear what Umar’s father currently does for a living, but apparently, he can spare Umar for an extended period of time. As such, Umar helps with the town’s reconstruction until its completion, and the townsfolk get to know the boy fairly well. However, the one who’s most curious (Pariya) can’t interact freely with him because of social constraints.

Mori-sensei does an excellent job brewing humor and conveying Pariya’s frustration as the girl gleans what information she can about her potential groom. Mori-sensei is equally skillful at conveying Pariya’s resulting insecurities. The townsfolk speak of Umar in glowing terms, and while that makes him more desirable as a husband, it makes Pariya feel less adequate as a bride, especially since her efforts to recreate her dowry are progressing at a snail’s pace. Even her parents marvel that Pariya’s found such a match, and you’ve got to feel bad for her when her own father directly asks Umar’s father why he’d choose a girl with Pariya’s reputation for his son. The reply Umar’s father gives is an interesting and insightful one. While Pariya may not fit conventional standards of femininity, she is uniquely suited for Umar.

She proves it, too, on a mundane errand that turns into a misadventure. While it is surprising that no one objects to them going off unsupervised, the scenario allows them to interact with a minimum of interference. Their trip for cosmetic ingredients is far from romantic, but it allows Pariya to unwittingly show off her good points to Umar. By the time the volume closes, there’s a definite sense that although Pariya can’t get married for some time, she has a happily even after in store for her.

Extras include Mori-sensei’s manga style afterword.

In Summary

Pariya’s adolescent turmoil continues! It’s hard for teenagers to communicate with the opposite sex, especially if it’s someone they’re attracted to. It’s even harder in a gender separated society, and Pariya’s bumbling efforts to make her feelings known to her intended are both touching and hilarious. It’s not the most romantic bride’s story in the set, but it goes a long way to show that the girl who saw herself as unmarriageable is well suited for someone after all.

First published at the Fandom Post.